SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom attempted to distinguish himself as a common-sense gubernatorial candidate at a forum at the University of San Francisco on Monday, painting himself as a pragmatist with a soft spot for the common man.
“My purpose has always been to fight for those who are struggling,” Newsom said.
Newsom was responding to a thinly-veiled barb from former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who hinted that Newsom is an out-of-touch member of the liberal elite.
Villaraigosa pulled out his oft-used criticism of “Davos Democrats,” at a university forum last week, tying Newsom to the political glitterati that congregate once a year at a ski resort in the Swiss Alps.
“Is he being fair?” asked moderator Carla Marinucci, of Politico.
In a nod to the Jesuit university, the former mayor of San Francisco replied he has always been inspired by the Catholic framework and the idealism of the 60s.
“I think the effort there is to discredit that past and my record of sorts and I don’t believe it’s particularly resonant and that’s why I’m being dismissive toward it,” Newsom said.
In that vein, Marinucci turned to the rise of homelessness, which has exploded throughout the state in recent years. California accounts for 21 percent of the nation’s homeless population, according to figures from the state Senate’s Committee on Transportation and Housing.
“It’s been the biggest issue everywhere I go,” said Newsom, whose controversial “Care not Cash” mayoral initiative cut money given to homeless people from county general assistance programs in exchange for housing and other services. The idea, which voters passed as a ballot measure in 2002, was to prevent cash welfare from being used on alcohol and drugs.
“Do you bear some responsibility for what the situation is today?” Marinucci asked.
“This issue is dominant throughout the state,” Newsom said. “So I wouldn’t connect one local initiative to the broader macro-challenges. It requires leadership and that leadership has been lacking for decades in California. There has been no intention of supporting local efforts to address the issue of homelessness from Sacramento. There are no statewide goals to end homelessness. There is no vision. That will change if I am successful as governor.”
Newsom said he would invest in expanding Supplemental Security Income in California and improve on pre-release programs in the state’s prison system.
“One of the most important investments we can make is aggressive SSI advocacy. It provides baseline of money to people to allow folks to get housing and supportive services,” Newsom said, adding that reaching inmates before they’re released can also help stem the flow of homelessness. “Focusing on in-reach is profoundly significant,” he said. “Sixty percent of money that’s going to come from cannabis legalization is money that can be used for drug treatment programs and behavioral health services.”
He also promised a homeless czar to “commit full time attention on this critical issue.”
On crime, Newsom dismissed claims by Republican opponent Assemblyman Travis Allen from Orange County that Proposition 47, which reclassifies some felony crimes to misdemeanors and reduces criminal penalties, has led to a spike in property crime in San Francisco.
“Property crime is up 24% in SF since @GavinNewsom’s Prop 47 made stealing property valued at $950 or less and using illegal drugs a misdemeanor in CA. Does anyone really want someone like Newsom running our state?” Allen tweeted Monday.
“It’s not lost on me that property crimes have gone up in the last few years, but that predates Prop 47, and goes back to realignment,” Newsom said. “Mr. Allen may have forgotten this. The federal courts came in and required the state to reduce its prison population by 35,000 individuals. We couldn’t even provide basic healthcare to our inmates.”
But Newsom says he’s committed to tweaking the law to close some of the loopholes he believes have led to some of the bigger problems, for example a provision that reduces shoplifting from a felony to a misdemeanor, where the value of the stolen property is less than $950.
“One of those areas I’m working on actively today is its relationship to shoplifting and some crime syndicates that are taking advantage of that prop 47 loophole,” Newsom said. “There are efforts to tighten that up legislatively. Again, you can’t be ideological here. There’s common sense here and I will embrace common sense to make tweaks as necessary.”
Newsom also addressed another criticism that a past sexual indiscretion makes him unfit to be governor. In 2007, Newsom admitted to an affair with his campaign manager’s wife in mid-2005, which led to the separation from his first wife, Kimberly Guilfoyle. Newsom said Monday he’s atoned for the indiscretion.
“I acknowledged it, I apologized for it and I learned an enormous amount for it,” Newsom said. “And I am everyday trying to be a champion and a model not only for women and girls, and the crisis with men and boys in this state and this country.”
Newsom said he fully supports the #MeToo movement, calling it “a cultural moment and an opportunity to address some of the deeper systematic issues.”
Newsom said that the deeper issue is a dangerous notion of machismo afflicting men and boys, posited by his wife, filmmaker Jennifer Siebel-Newsom.
“The most dangerous words in the English language are ‘Man up, be a man, don’t be a sissy.’ Young boys lose their emotion, they lose their empathy,” he said, adding that this leads to a whole host of societal problems, from school shootings and domestic violence to suicide among men.
Marinucci then asked Newsom “a question that is often asked of women. How are you going to balance being a good dad and a good governor?”
“You’re the first person to have ever asked me that question,” said Newsom, who has four children. “It reminds me of a conversation I had with Nancy Pelosi, who said when she first ran for Congress the number one question was, who is going to take care of the kids? Here’s the difference. My kids are 1, 4, 6 and 8. Nancy’s were in college. It’s just an interesting fact talking about the misrepresentation of women.”
Newsom also said he was disgusted by the way Sarah Palin was “porno-fied and stripified” while she was John McCain’s running mate in 2008.
“There’s something profoundly significant in all of that,” he said.
Turning to Marinucci’s question, he said, “Nothing is more challenging in this race than raising young kids with a wife who is a rock star and is full-time and she expects the same of her husband.”
He parlayed the answer into a push for paid family leave, adding, “It’s incumbent on the next governor to do more for this state and its families.”
Monday’s forum was part of a series of five question-and-answer sessions with gubernatorial candidates sponsored by Politico and the University of San Francisco’s Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good.